Thursday, November 03, 2005

Urban Outposts

I recently met up with a friend at a small diner. Its a place I have passed many times, and I wouldn't have ever darken its doors except that my friend spends time there drawing. From the outside it is just a dingy run down establishment. Entering the diner though is like entering a whole different world. It is still dingy, and run down and I didn't trust to eat its food a drink its coffee (I have been warned of both by people who have been there once to eat). It had the feel though of an outpost in this urban terrain. The place has an odd warmth and it seemed clear to me that for my friend and those who frequent there it is a refuge from the cold anonymities of the city. When I was introduced to the waitress, she described herself as the mother of the place.

I began to wonder how many of these little outposts exist in this city where people huddle for a time and then return to their same lives still aimless. There I sat across the booth from my friend and listen and yet I believe I am part of something much more than a momentary refuge. We talked some about churches he has been part of not only have not been a place of refuge but a place of judgment of the sort that says to be one of us you have to clean up your act and become just like us. And being unwilling to lift a finger to help him in ways he may actually need.

I was out walking today and passed a Roman Catholic church and on their church sign is read "Interested in becoming Catholic? See within." I wonder how many people have walked in because of that sign. I don't know, but that seems to be what any number of churches are doing waiting for people to inquire within or they are telling people they are going to hell and trying to scare them saved. What I wonder is if we as Christians should be doing is seeking to know where these urban outposts are, and being present and be willing to just be for awhile. It seems that churches in the American context either assume people will come if they want or are present in a way that is confrontational in someway, but drives away as many away as it attracts, and may just attract those who already have some familiarity with the language.

What I have been experiencing is that there are people who are finding ways to make it through a harsh world, they know of Christianity but they only have very distorted perceptions of what it is (admittedly due to the failures of Christians and the judgmental face so many public Christians seem to present). To the extent that when you sit an listen and gently present Christian truth, they are very interested. Though, that interest may not send them straight to church admittedly.

I wonder what is the relationship between this urban refuge and myself and Reconciler. How does the Gospel intersect with the lives of people. Am I aware of how God is at work? I feel like what I experienced and saw at this little diner has significance for how we witness for the Gospel, though I am having trouble articulating it. Though being present and waiting seem to be part of the necesary responce.